Concerned that your kids are eating junk at school? You're not alone. But there's some good news on the horizon. According to a new survey by the Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA) and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), the number of Minnesota school districts purchasing food directly from local farms has more than doubled in the last 15 months.
The survey of Minnesota districts, which includes more than 550,000 K-12 kids, found that 69 districts reported purchasing Minnesota-grown products in 2009, more than double the figure from late 2008. And 77 percent of the districts now involved with farm to school initiatives expect to expand their activities in the upcoming school year, the survey found.
Other key findings from the survey include:
-The most commonly used local foods were apples, potatoes, peppers, winter squash, sweet corn and tomatoes. A growing number of schools are also purchasing Minnesota-grown bison, wild rice, dried beans and grains.
-The biggest barriers to expanding farm to school purchases were the need for extra labor and preparation time in the cafeteria, pricing and tight food budgets, and difficulty finding nearby farmers to purchase from directly.
-On the future, schools are most interested in purchasing local vegetables and fruit, with growing interest in bread and grains, dairy and meat. The survey also showed strong interest in expanding student education about Farm to School and growing food in school gardens.
However despite these shifts, the U.S Department of Agriculture still spends around $2.68 per child on lunch. What can you get for $2.68? Well, when you add the cost of transportation and labor into the equation, not much. Which is why the average school lunch includes meat and chicken of such low quality they wouldn't meet the standards for low-quality fast-food chains.
So how can you get involved and ensure your kids are getting the safe and nutritional meals they deserve? Check out this excellent post
from Lee Zukor, founder of the local-foods-focused web site, Simple Good and Tasty. Zukor is a father who went to his kid's school to eat lunch, and subsequently wrote an open letter of apology to kids for the food they are served every day. He also includes great resources for parents wanting to make changes to school lunches.
The post by Zukor is an eye-opener and a call to action not just for parents, but for Americans everywhere who want to demand a healthier and more sustainable food system.